Tag Archives: Wes Craven

The Girl in the Photographs (2016)

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The Girl in the Photographs is the last film produced by horror master Wes Craven. I’m sure it’s not the worst thing on his resume, but I really wish it could have been a more worthy film.

The plot is simple: an attractive girl (Claudia Lee) stuck working as a supermarket cashier in a sleepy town called Spearfish starts receiving photos of brutally murdered women. A douchebag artistic photographer (Kal Penn) from Spearfish catches wind of the photos and decides to return to his hometown for some stupid reason, taking along with him a bunch of attractive models and assistants (including Kenny Wormald, the guy who starred in the Footloose remake).

The interesting thing about The Girl in the Photographs — and/or the boring thing — is that there’s no real mystery as to who the killer is. Accordingly, it just becomes a formulaic slasher thriller where obnoxious characters get picked off one by one — and not in very creative or frightening ways either.

It’s a shame, because the film actually starts off really well thanks to an extended cameo from scream queen Katharine Isabelle (Ginger Snaps) that was both tense and unnerving. It’s also great watching Kal Penn being a complete dick — albeit a different kind of dick to Kumar  — because you know he can do it so well. Kenny Wormald has some talent as does Claudia Lee, who establishes herself as a starlet to look out for in the future. Oh, and it also stars Mitch Pileggi! Yes, Skinner from The X-Files!

Unfortunately, despite the promising start, a solid cast and what could have been a fascinating premise had they just bothered to explore it, The Girl in the Photographs quickly reverts to fairly standard, straight-to-DVD-level scares and tactics. Director and co-writer Nick Simon does a decent job in creating a brutal and sadistic vibe and embraces the campy atmosphere rather than shy away from it. This makes the movie better than it should have been, though that still doesn’t make it a good movie.

Truth is, we’ve seen this type of thing countless times before, and The Girl in the Photographs fails to stand out. It may not be horrible, but neither is it particularly intelligent, funny or scary.  The film may have been able to redeem itself with a great finish or shocking twist, but as it turned out, all we got was an anti-climatic climax and shitty, cookie-cutter ending. Oh well.

2 stars out of 5

Classic Movie Review: The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988)

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It was round 1990 that posters of a pale-faced man with a red cross on his forehead, lying in a coffin and captioned: “Don’t bury me, I’m not dead”, started showing up everywhere at local video stores. It was a fantastic poster and it captured my attention immediately. But I was way too young for what appeared to be a terrifying film (notwithstanding that my parents probably would have allowed me and my sister to rent it had we really wanted to!), so I put it on the back burner.

The film was still lurking in my subconscious when I put together my 2011 list of 25 Films That Scared the Crap Out of Me When I Was a Kid as an honorable mention (just from the poster) even though I had never seen it.

Last week, and 25 years after I first saw the poster, horror master Wes Craven passed away. In the many tributes to the man who brought us iconic franchises such as A Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream, I read that one of his more notable solo efforts was The Serpent and the Rainbow. I was a little stunned because, first of all, throughout all these years I never realised that it was Craven who directed it. And secondly, I finally discovered that the terrified face on the poster is actually a young Bill Pullman!

Anyway, as a tribute to Craven, I decided to track down a copy of The Serpent and the Rainbow to put my childhood nightmares to rest. I don’t know what I had expected, but it certainly wasn’t the weird and trippy experience I was treated to last night.

The film was advertised as “inspired by a true story” and is actually based on a non-fiction book by Harvard ethnobotanist Wade Davis, who decided to chronicle his experiences in Haiti researching an alleged case of a man who had died and been brought back to life as a zombie. To turn it into a horror film, however, Craven and screenwriters Richard Maxwell and Adam Rodman changed things up completely so that only basic elements of the true story remained.

The protagonist in the film, played by a surprisingly handsome young Bill Pullman, is a Harvard ethnobotanist and anthropologist named Dennis Alan. At the request of a pharmaceutical company, he heads to Haiti to research this alleged zombie case in the hopes of discovering some lucrative new form of anaesthetic. Once there, however, Alan is pulled into the world of voodoo and must fight local authorities who want him to stop digging into their affairs.

It sounds like an intriguing premise with abundant potential for horror, though The Serpent and the Rainbow never ends up really taking advantage of it. The vast majority of the film has a strange documentary-like feel with Alan going from place to place trying to track down whatever it is that can turn people into zombies. Prior to the final act, the only true attempts at supernatural horror come in the form of  dream sequences and hallucinations, and the most frightening scenes actually have more to do with brutal Haitian authorities than anything zombie-related.

The “climax” — which begins roughly when the scene from the poster takes place — turned out to be rather farcical and full of images that are more fantastic than horrific. I suppose I have to consider it in the context of the late 80s and the tackiness of horror films from that era, the lower budgets and less advanced special effects and so forth, though even taking that into account I can’t say I was particularly frightened or impressed.

It’s also a shame that the film doesn’t go deeper into the whole voodoo versus science debate. It touches upon the subject at various points but fails to grasp the question of whether there are some things that science simply cannot explain.

It would be unfair to say there are no scares to be found in The Serpent and the Rainbow. After all those years of being convinced that it must be one of the most terrifying movies I’ve never seen, however, the experience of actually watching it was ultimately underwhelming. In all honesty a film about voodoo and zombies could have and should have been much more scary and compelling. Just shows you should never judge a movie by its poster. As an entry on Wes Craven’s non-franchise filmography, The Serpent and the Rainbow ranks below many others I enjoyed a lot more, include The People Under the Stairs, The Hills Have Eyes and Red Eye. It makes me wonder how I would have received the film had I gone ahead and watched it when I was much younger.

2.25 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Scream 4 (2011)

The original Scream was a relevation for horror fans, and a pretty darn funny one at that.  The two sequels that followed were okay, in my memory a complete blur, most probably because they were basically variations of the first film.

Hard to believe, but Scream 4 comes 11 years after the third film, which to me suggests ‘reboot’ or a ‘homage’ as opposed to genuine sequel.  The core cast from the first three films are still alive and kicking — Neve Campbell returns as Sidney Prescott, and Courteney Cox and David Arquette return as Gale Weathers and Dewey Riley, respectively (now married, though in real life they are separated — must have been awkward).  The fresh blood comes from the up-and-coming Emma Roberts and Hayden Panettiere, but there are also plenty of cameos, from Anna Paquin to Kristen Bell.

I must admit, given that this film was directed by the great Wes Craven and written by Kevin Williamson (who penned the screenplays of the first two in the series), I expected a lot more.  The premise could not have been less uninspiring — Sidney Prescott returns to Woodsbro years after her brutal encounters as a part of her book tour.  Of course, the ‘Ghostface’ killer returns and starts killing people all over the place, and there seems to be a pattern that matches the original killings.  Who could it be?  What horror film conventions will be adhered to or broken this time?

On the bright side, Scream 4 does contain some clever moments and witty remarks — the ‘film-in-a-film’ idea is not a novel one but I enjoyed the way it kick started the film, and the whole social networking/instant feed concept was intelligently mixed into the plot to give it a contemporary flavour.  But on the whole, Scream 4 felt like absolutely nothing new.  The people are older but that’s about it.  If you’ve seen any of the first three films you’ll probably get a good dose of deja vu, except this time the jokes are more stale and the frights are less scary.  The sharp edge of the original has dulled over time.

In fact, it would be a stretch to call Scream 4 a true horror film — it’s more comedy than anything else, except it’s not that funny; even as a parody it’s not particularly effective.  It was like an old dog desperately trying to perform old tricks — very good tricks, but unfortunately we’ve seen it all before.

2 stars out of 5